2 – The Beginnings

The Beginnings

November 1995

We met on Flitwick railway station after a long telephone conversation confirmed we found each other interesting. For different reasons we had both used the Guardian Personal ad service. Neither of us was desperate. I was frustrated by the limitation for relationships that the narrow circle of people my normal day brought me into contact with. I was a teacher who was not particular interested in a partnership with another teacher.  Outside of this source of contacts I was confined to meeting the users of the local pubs and clubs. So, I put an advert in the Guardian. I was surprised at the number and the variety of responses. Maggie stood out from all the others with her �take me as I am� attitude.

There I was, waiting for Maggie outside Flitwick station, having spent the shortest four hours talking to someone who I felt instantly comfortable with, waiting nervously to meet her. She arrived, astounding me with her beauty, amazing me that not only was she great to be with but she was gorgeous! The weekend swept by and from that day on we talked on the phone everyday until she moved to live with me in Margate a few months later. After Maggie sold her house in Maston Moreteyne and I sold my house in Margate, and we got married, in December 1999 we bought a cottage in the country. Well, more precisely a semi-detached, unimproved, farm manager�s cottage in Sevenscore near Ramsgate, next to a noisy road labelled the �Pfizer�s rat-run�. The local pharmaceutical manufacturer was expanding and so was the traffic to and from the site.

Maggie worked for Canterbury University college for a short time and we decided that she should retire at 50, in May 2000, so that she could become a housewife and I could expand my work for the OCR exam board. I was working as Head of Business at a local Technology College but because of the subject teacher shortage was teaching mainly ICT and computer engineering, both of which I found boring. My work for OCR expanded and unexpectedly, in 2002, I was promoted to Principal Examiner for one of the vocational �A� level exams. Still, at this point, when I did the household accounts, we were barely breaking even, but with a gradually increasing income.

When my father died he left his house to me and my brother and sisters. As they were more interested in cash rather than being part-owners of a dilapidated terrace house in Margate, they were happy when I bought out their shares in the house.

During this time we began visiting South Cyprus and were becoming irritated at the rapid commercialisation we were seeing. We decided to take a trip to North Cyprus despite Greek Cypriots telling us, in effect, that the army there would make life difficult for us. I first trip was in 1999 and it surpassed our expectations. The Turkish Cypriots were friendly and at that time, the place was mostly un-commercialised. Even during this first visit we found ourselves looking at property and investigating the possibility of building our own villa. We were just dreaming, however.

We visited North Cyprus several times a year whilst also looking at Spain as a possible site for a villa, but every time our interest in moving to Cyprus strengthened.

In April 2002 we prepared for another North Cyprus visit by collecting the details of 50 or more properties costing around the �40,000. We looked at these properties and some more expensive ones and each time discovered they were either crumbling old properties in good locations or cramped new properties on cramped estates. It was then that we changed our focus to building our own property and began looking at land.

The idea was that I would cash in an endowment policy which had been linked to my old house and we would use that plus a credit card to buy land. We had two houses, both with mortgages, and a large credit card debt but because of my increasing exam board income we thought we would take a risk. As it turned out the endowment policy�s value dropped rapidly a few months after we cashed it in. We intended spending about �10,000 on a donum, 1350 m2, of land. We immediately found a plot we liked but a few days later discovered it had been sold. We were despondent. We were shown more plots, one with an electricity pylon in the middle of it, another high in the mountains which would mean being in the shade for a lot of the time, and lots of huge plots of land which would be beyond our budget and beyond the one donum limit for foreign purchasers.

Eventually we were shown the plot we finally bought. The man showing us around worked for the Land Registry, we were told. He showed us a map with the land outlined in red and started to walk us around what were three smaller plots combined for one sale. The total area of the land was 1 donum, 2 evleks and 100 square feet, a total of 2000 m2.  This was more that we were allowed but as we had two different surnames we were told we could each buy a donum. The price was �15,000, a great deal above our budget, but as the estate agent�s �land expert� showed us how much we would be getting we could see that this land was a bargain. It was at this time that I could see that our �land expert� was occasionally stopping and staring at the map and looking puzzled. He would point at the road below us and scratch his head. Something was wrong but he couldn�t work out what. In the end he started to revise his idea of where the borders of our land were, but still the purchase looked attractive. When I looked at the map I could see on thing that would not change, and hasn�t to this day, we had an uninterrupted view down the valley to the Mediterranean.

We were so frightened of losing this plot that we allowed ourselves to be rushed to a solicitor chosen by the estate agent, a big mistake, and put down a 50% deposit with a promise to pay the rest in 30 days. We left the office the proud owners of building land on the island of Cyprus. We went back to the land several times during our holiday and each time I looked at the map and like the �land expert�, and other experts to come, I found it puzzling. The most puzzling part of the map was where north was, at that time I didn�t realise that I should have turned the map 90o for it to point north, and it was not for several months that this was pointed out to me!

We returned home, organised the payment of the land and started to plan the villa we were going to make. We decided that we would have to sell our house to build the villa, the inherited house was occupied by our son and his family and they were eventually going to buy it from us. I wrongly estimated what we would get from the sale of the house and calculated that after paying off debts we would be left with �30,000 to spend on the villa. We were told that building a villa would cost �250-350 per m2 we would be able to afford to build a 100 m2 villa. I played around with designs so that when we returned to North Cyprus in May 2002 we started to look for builders. We found several, all promising to build what we asked for but none willing to commit themselves to a contract. Each builder came to the site, puzzled over the map and left with the same feeling of unease that I did. All except for one builder�s architect who pointed to one of the corners of our plot on the map and tied it correctly up with where he was standing, but if this was right then everything we had been told by the �land expert� would be wrong. There was nearly a fight, between the architect and our �land expert�, in the road which later it turned out that we �owned�. In the end we decided to believe our expert because the alternative would cause too many problems, not the least that we had no easy access.

We returned to the UK with an agreement with a builder that he would build our 100 m2 villa for �30,000. When no contract appeared we abandoned him, he installs swimming pools now, and decided to try again when we returned in August. Meanwhile we decided to make a move to sell our house and discovered to our shock that it was worth �40,000 more than I had estimated. This also meant that the inherited house was also worth a lot more than estimated. In the end, after paying off all debts, we had �70,000 to spend on the villa not �30,000! This meant we could have a bigger villa, a pool, walls, a large terrace and several other luxuries we had not dreamed we could afford.

We returned to North Cyprus in August 2002 and looked around for another builder; one we could trust. We found one, recommended by Tracey Stringer of Stringer Estates; Hakan Doğahan. Together we drew up plans for the villa, negotiated prices and drew up a contract with stage payments. We were now getting a 165 m2 villa with an 8×4 meter swimming pool for �66,000. This price included �10,000 for bringing electricity down from Malatya, the village above us, and main water from the same village. The village has an all-year-round waterfall and water that tastes wonderful. This confirmed the �300 per m2 cost of building a house that several builders had told us was the average rate then. This was when workman were being paid �8 per day and before the building boom pushed up all prices.

The villa was to take 9 months and be finished in time for summer 2003. That was the theory the reality was a lot different. According to North Cyprus regulations you should not build on land until you have both permission to purchase and planning permission. Permission to build would not be given unless you are considered to be an acceptable purchaser. The main reason for this process was to see if you were working for the Greek Cypriots in an attempt to buy the north of the island back through back-door methods. It became clear to us that something was wrong with the processing of our permission when every time we returned to the island something prevented us from receiving our permission. We paid another solicitor to �fast-track� the process and within four week our permission came through, but still the process was not complete. We had permission to purchase but until the deeds for the land were in our name we still should not start building.

December 2002 we finally sold our house and with the cash in the bank we waited for the completion of our dream villa. We were living in rented accommodation and I was thinking vaguely of retiring early, but wasn�t sure how I could do this in reality. Several people living in North Cyprus had told me that they were living on about �500 a month but we wanted to return to the UK often, to see our five sons and four grandsons. My pension from teaching would not amount to much more than that if I was to retire early and take an actuarially reduced pension, and the cash lump sum would soon disappear in removal expenses and other unforeseen costs. There were many of these about to appear.

We returned to North Cyprus for the New Year and found out that the final obstacle to our receiving the deeds to the land was the lack of interest shown by the land�s vendor in completing the deal. The cause of this disinterest was the fact that we had foolishly paid him all the money before officially taking possession of the land and, as it turned out, more importantly he was the executor of an estate consisting of several plots of land, one of which he could not find the deeds for.  Without this final deed the government could not calculate death duty and would not allow him to transfer the property we had bought into our names. After months of firm persuasion finally the process was completed and we walked out of the estate agent�s office with deeds in hand and minus �600 needed to pay purchase tax.

It was now April 2003 and with the deeds in our names we could officially start building. We contacted Hakan, our builder, and immediately the building process started. The item on the top of our contract was that Hakan was to have the land�s boundaries confirmed; a tapu as it is called in Turkish. He inferred that this was not necessary but we pointed out that the contract says this must be done. A few days later he arrived with his friend from Lefkoşa, Nicosia. Apparently his friend had been in charge of all the land registry in North Cyprus; another �land expert�. We looked at the map and he explained that there were three official points on the map we could use to measure and calculate our boundaries with, unfortunately he could only find two. One he believed had been destroyed whilst clearing the site. He used the other two points to stake out our land and it was at this time that he pointed out that we owned a ridge and road that we had overlooked, and that this would shrink our land.

We looked at the stakes as he drove them into the ground and realised that we would only just about squeeze our villa and pool into the useable width of our land. Land that had originally been shaped like a cowboy boot was looking more like a trainer. The top half had disappeared down a slope. We consoled ourselves that it was not a totally unusable slope but, for the moment, it could not figure in our plans.

Quicker than we expected the foundations of the villa appeared, making the villa look a lot smaller than we had expected. I measured all the dimensions and confirmed that they were exactly as on the plan. Two drives had been cut in order to gain access and I asked who owned the land. I was told, �the government�. Wrongly, we accepted that explanation and the logic that because the government had taken our land to expand the narrow track, we could take some of their land for access. By this time we were a dangerous mixture of exhausted and happy. We were too tired to think through what we were being told and were ready to accept anything positive we were told in order to experience an untroubled life. In other words we were temporarily putting off the problems which later would return to haunt us.

We returned to the UK and after the school holidays were over I returned to school starting to plot how I could escape work. The May exam period started and so did my work for the exam board. After some discussion I was assured that I would still be able to set, co-ordinate and mark my own exam along with other exam work, but only if I had an address in the UK. I calculated that this would be worth about �10,000 a year before tax, but we would need an address. The house we owned, that our son was going to buy would too full for us to live in. What could we do that would not cost a fortune?